There are maps. Then, there are great maps.
This past weekend UCLA's Hammer Museum debuted "City in Mind: A Lyrical Map of the Concept of Los Angeles," a literal way finder made of color pencil and acrylic that measures 23 feet wide by 5 feet high.
The interior mural-like map is the creation of J. Michael Walker, who has been celebrated for his "All the Saints of the City of the Angels" series, a visual survey of Los Angeles street namesakes.
The new project began a few months ago, after a series of conversations between Walker and David Kipen, the former Director of Literature at the National Endowment for the Arts who reinvented himself as founder of Libros Schmibros, a Boyle Heights grassroots lending library that serves up the Jewish and Latino communities.
Kipen asked Walker how he would map a connection linking the Westside museum with the Eastside bookstore, marking his six-week public engagement residency at the UCLA's Hammer Museum.
"You could pretty much trace the path that Fray Juan Crespi and the Portola Expedition took in 1769, when they first camped out in lower Lincoln Heights on the feast day that gave rise to L.A.'s first official name," Walker recalls telling Kipen. "The path that followed, which is essentially due west from City Hall along Wilshire to Westwood, and its intersection of what is now the 405 Freeway." That Crespi-Portola path then led into the Valley, he adds.
Then Walker sought and used selected quotes about Los Angeles as way finders for the functional cultural map. "I thought there was a lot of potential for discovery and resonance inherent in making it a map that used literary references," he says. "Particularly by authors who lived in Los Angeles--if we used some of the most powerful quotes we could lay our hands on."
A survey of the footprints of words that lead to a cross cultural reference of Los Angeles; Father Greg Boyle together with Raymond Chandler; Chavez Ravine as the habitat of a Dodger Stadium village with Vin Scully, Fernando Venezuela, and Sandy Koufax; Bunker Hill is squatted by John Fante, Charles Bukowski and Walter Mosley.
"It's the best new map of Los Angeles I have seen in years, and I have looked at a helluva lot of maps of this city," says Glen Creason, map librarian for the Los Angeles Public Library and co-curator of "Los Angeles Unfolded."
"Walker's map is great on three levels: his artwork is superior to almost all cartographers since he is an artist first; moreover a gifted portraitist and seems to have researched the images thoroughly," marvels Creason.
"Second, the historical breadth is impressive stretching from native settlements to the Spanish and Mexican colonial pueblo to figures as contemporary as Father Boyle or Tupac," he says. "Third, he really shows passion for the city its rich cultural life by using quotes that make the entire place shine in both English and Spanish."
"I am hoping he can find a way to make a book out of the maps somehow since it gets better as you study it," adds the Los Angeles map expert. "The work is a welcome addition to the study and understanding of Los Angeles history."
The "City in Mind" installation continues at the Hammer through October 6. A presentation with Walker and Creason entitled "Lower Left Blue: Cartography in Los Angeles," will be held on September 15.